THE FARM BILL FIASCO Like many other special interests in Washington, the corporate agribusiness lobby has for years done an outstanding job of securing tens of billions of dollars in subsidies for well-connected corporate farmers. With the farm bill set to expire in October, its reauthorization provides an important opportunity to stop wasting taxpayer dollars on corporate welfare for wealthy agribusiness.
Congress Increases Handouts to Absentee Landlords, Corporate Agribusiness
Here is a news update from Taxpayers for Common Sense. TCS is the best organization that monitors excessive government spending, corruption and corporate welfare.
In fact, lawmakers this week reached a tentative deal to increase farm subsidies by $70 billion over the last farm bill.
The structure of the current legislation contains enough loopholes to make a beetle proud. In many ways the bill is responsible for everything that is wrong with the agriculture industry today and it has all but failed in providing much needed support to small family farmers. Currently, sixty percent of American farmers receive no subsidies at all and the top 10 percent of subsidy recipients receive three-quarters of federal farm dollars.
The untold story of the farm bill is that it does very little for average farmers and producers, but will drive up spending significantly to benefit an even smaller number of powerful recipients. Current farm bill legislation is expected to cost at least $171 billion over 10 years and the biggest slices of the pie are still likely to go to wealthy corporate farmers. Even the current farm policy would cost about $107 billion over the next decade.
Taxpayer-financed subsidies for some crops have encouraged the largest farms to keep producing more in an endless quest for even more federal funds. This insatiable thirst has led the largest growers (and subsidy recipients) to gobble up as much land as they can and consequently drive many small family farm operations out of business. The overproduction then leads to a glut of products on the market, depressed prices, and sometimes the requirement for even more taxpayer dollars to be used to remove the surplus of goods from the market.
Recently, on a bipartisan basis, the House voted to uphold a Senate provision that would cap farm payments at $225,000 for individuals or $275,000 per married couple. This is a step in the right direction. Payment caps will help control the total costs of farm subsidy programs and insure that financial support is available for those who need them the most -- small family farmers. However, despite this decision by both the full House and Senate, the conference committee has ignored their wishes and increased the payment cap to $360,000.
If Congress is truly concerned with rooting out waste in the farm bill, they should also boot "farmers" who don't actually farm off the federal dole. Almost 20 percent of the total number of commodity payments has gone to absentee landlords, or farmland owners who don't even farm, according to a soon-to-be released report by Taxpayers for Common Sense. These modern day feudal lords are allowed to claim a share of commodity program payments as long as their land is rented to farmers through a crop-share agreement. Absentee landlords are living high on the hog at taxpayer expense and at the same time making it harder for other farmers to earn a living.
Under a typical crop-sharing arrangement, landlords contribute the land and a pre-arranged portion of other farming inputs in return for a share of the crop sales and a share of the farm commodity program payments for which the farming operation is eligible. These arrangements between landlords and tenants typically range from 33 to 67 percent, in which the tenants keep two-thirds of crop revenue and commodity program payments, to 50 to 50 percent arrangements. Nearly two-thirds of all farmland eligible for commodity program payments in the year 2000 was rented from absentee landlords.
With such a skewed set of priorities, it's no wonder that the 1996 Freedom to Farm Act has been nicknamed "Freedom to Fail," and that Willie Nelson and friends are still holding benefit concerts to raise money for small family farmers.
It's time for Congress to level the farm playing field by allowing smaller farms to get a bigger portion of the farm subsidy pie, instead of just the crumbs. Payment caps are a step in the right direction, but more can be done.
For more information, contact Keith Ashdown at (202)-546-8500 ext. 110
or by email at email@example.com
TCS is at www.taxpayer.net
Also see Fred Foldvary's editorial, End All Farm Subsidies
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